Singing Research

We have had about five decades of good research on vocal production. Most of the early research was on classical singing. More recently there has been investigation of belting and belters. Not much else has been studied.

Think about that. No one has seriously studied successful professional singers. There is NO data on them that applies to any of them in a general manner.

Since I have been teaching for over 40 years, I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the consistency within each style. Many of my jazz vocalists favor a certain kind of vocal production. No, they don’t copy others, but they do not generally sound like rock singers or Broadway belters.

On the other hand, the Broadway belters have a certain consistency, too. Men and women, kids and teens. A real “legit” sound is going away and a strong “mix belt” is right there along with the belters, but they don’t sound the same as the pop belters.

The pop belters make a different kind of sound, but are also consistent to their style, too. Mind you, the differences are not huge between some of the vocalists in one style and another, and some singers cross from style to style. Still there is a “certain something” that distinguishes each style.

I can’t think of a single other profession in which successful individuals have not been studied to find out about the parameters of the success. We have all kinds of statistics about swimmers, golfers, baseball players, and tennis stars. We know about politicians, chefs, lawyers and doctors. We can find data about housewives, factory workers, the elderly and kids of all ages. Where — WHERE–is the data about singers or singing?

We have information about vocal production but it is not aimed at the outside, just the inside. We know a bit about the vocal folds and the air flow parameters, but we do not know how people think when they sustain a high note. The books interviewing classical singers by Jerome Hines and others were interesting but certainly not “scientific”. Other books on individual singers may mention the singing in some specific way, but not in a way that objectively compares any data about singing to some other data.

We have sent scientists out to live with apes and elephants. We have sent them out to look into volcanoes and at the ocean floor. We have sent them to investigate the shopping habits of Walmart customers and the long term effects of sustained exercise or medication on various demographic populations. Indeed, we have studied all kinds of things animal, vegetable and mineral. I am waiting, as I said a few posts ago, for studies on singing — not on vocal production per se but on other parameters.

Remember, we teach people to sing in all kinds of ways. What we teach them is largely personal, subjective and often passed down from one person to another as folklore without any validation of any kind.

Isn’t it time that we go look at the people with thirty, forty, or even fifty years of successful professional singing in their lives and find out what that’s about?

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5 thoughts on “Singing Research”

  1. Jo Estill did make a nice contribution to the field in one way, and that was that she tried to research a style outside of classical, belting. Her belting, however, was an ugly screech and not at all representative of the marketplace, then or now, at least as it was found on Broadway.

    I have always found her work to be a mix of things that were useful and things that are profoundly not useful and the only way you would know that was if you were familiar with voice science on your own. Without it, she was able to sell her work as science only to those who were not themselves, scientists. She also did not do well here in NYC because the people here who were already teaching belting, (like me), did not recognize the sound she was calling belting, and that is a big deal.

    If you have read the past few posts (which I think you have not) you will see that there is no need for her 38 school positions, contracting interior throat muscles or deliberately trying to manipulate the vocal folds. In her work there was no talk of breathing at all, there was no talk of artistry, or emotional communication, and not a word about style for decades. If you find it helpful, that’s fine, but I urge you to look around. You might be surprised to discover that there are simpler, cleaner and more wholistic approaches, also based on voice science (not conducted by the designer of the program, but by bonified science experts).

    And “twang” belongs to country music where the world always meant something very specific. It should NEVER have been applied to a Broadway sound which was and still is “brassy”, like a trumpet.

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